Understanding Disaster-Specific Damage

Before you can begin to file a claim, you need a clear understanding of which policy covers what types of damages. For example, coastal-area homeowners policies often contain the following specific limits: “excludes flood, surface water, waves, tidal water, and overflow of a body of water or spray from any of these.”

You can see from this confusing language that it is often difficult to quickly resolve who is responsible for damages, since it’s not always easy to separate perils like wind-related damage (covered) from flood-related damage (not covered).

The insurance adjuster will make the final determination on which insurance policy is responsible, once he or she reviews the claim. However, you need to know beforehand what is covered in each of your policies. That way you can be sure to have the right protection in place for each type of damage.

For the purposes of this section of the guide, we’ll limit our discussion to five sources of hurricane-and flood-related damages:

  • Water
  • Wind
  • Flood
  • Mold
  • Soil

Water Damage

Water damage is one of the most common reasons people make claims on their homeowners insurance. Burst pipes, leaky appliances, and flooded basements are just a few of the unexpected ways you could discover exactly what is and is not covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

Homeowners policies don’t cover flood damage, but they do cover other kinds of water damage. For example, they would generally pay for damage from rain coming through a hole in the roof or a broken window, as long as the hole was caused by a hurricane or other disaster covered by the policy.

Wind Damage

Wind-related damage, including wind-damage from hurricanes, is typically included in your homeowners insurance policy unless you live in coastal areas. In those cases, if you are unable to find private-sector coverage you can usually get insurance from one of the state-run alternative programs. Check out the previous section on insurance for availability and state contact information. Even if your policy includes windstorm damage, you may be able to purchase additional protection if the policy limits are not enough.

Flood Damage

Flood insurance covers losses to your property caused by flooding — from structural and mechanical damage to flood debris clean-up, and damage to floor surfaces such as tile and carpeting. Personal property coverage insures most of your personal property and belongings up to a specified limit, including:

  • Clothing
  • Furniture, housewares, bedding
  • Decorative items, lamps, lighting fixtures
  • Books, home electronics, computers
  • Area rugs, and draperies
  • Clothes washers, and dryers
  • Air conditioners
  • Food freezers, and the food in them
  • Portable microwave ovens

Mold Damage

Water damage that can cause mold may come from a burst pipe, a failed appliance or an automatic fire sprinkler. Water can also enter your home from storm damage to a roof or window, or rising water from a flood. Regardless of the source, insurance coverage for mold damage varies with individual policies.

Mold that results from a sudden and accidental discharge of water — like a burst pipe or other plumbing failure — is usually a covered claim in homeowners policies. Claims may also arise from water damage due to hurricanes or flooding. Please refer to your policy provisions for details regarding specific mold coverage and limitations.

Most insurers now offer limited coverage for mold-related property damage within the basic policy. Many insurers offer $10,000 of limited coverage, with the opportunity to purchase additional coverage for an additional premium. Other insurers exclude mold-related property damage entirely, but offer coverage in amounts of $10,000, $15,000, $25,000, $50,000, and policy limits for an additional premium. Any changes in mold-related property damage coverage must usually be approved by the state.

Soil Damage

Prolonged, severe flooding can create new challenges in terms of environmental hazards such as dangerous levels of minerals or other toxic substances — such as pesticides and industrial waste. Environmental testing may be required, unsafe levels of toxic substances (ex: arsenic) could be found in the soil at or above exposure thresholds.